Business of Emotion

What business are you in? What are you selling?

A Little History:

For the past 15 years, I have been actively involved in the Experience Economy and its principles originally expressed by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore from their book, ‘The Experience Economy.’ Over the course of time, I have met some incredible business leaders and fascinating ambassadors of the Experience Economy. Each one has expanded my ideas of what an experience is and can be for customers and patients. I have seen the frameworks of the Experience Economy at work first hand and can share with you that they are time tested. Yet, I have always felt that there was something more, just out of range of the traditional thinking around experiences and experience design.

It wasn’t until recently have I begun to focus on another aspect of experience design. A path slightly different than my fellow experience designers and stagers. An approach for business that could create a new design principle. My approach would take me to see experiences from a whole new perspective. My method would be to stop looking for the traditional answers and solutions solely about the Experience Economy and begin searching for the questions that defined Experiences and Experience Design on a personalized level.

This idea of seeking the right questions was sparked by Hal Gregersen’s book, ‘Questions are the Answer‘. He asked the reader to use the idea of the right question to discover new opportunities and solutions rather than seeking an existing answers. A process he calls Catalytic Questioning.

This reverse thinking helped me to create a series of questions that could help others understand the economic value offering they provided based upon the initial questions they ask their customers. Where they stood in the economic progression could be defined by the initial answers sought by the frontline from the customer.

  • Commodities – ‘How much do you need?’
  • Goods – “What do you want to buy?”
  • Services – “What can we do for you?”
  • Experiences – “What would you like to do?”
  • Transformations – “What do you want to become?”

This very idea was shared in a recent book by Shareef Mahdavi called, “Beyond Bedside Manner” to help his readers understand what type of business they were in around healthcare.

There is a line that Shareef wrote in his book that would anchor the idea of a different design direction. It is a line about the one thing that most every doctor wants their patient to feel about them after a visit. The line reads, ‘If you could boil down to a single word what patients want to feel after meeting with their doctor, that word is Confidence.’ In that line were two key words that were at the very core to my thinking process.; ‘feel’ and ‘Confidence’. In these two words lies the intention and desired outcome.

Experience and Emotions:

“The happiest place on earth.”, is one of Disney’s most iconic emotional tag-lines. It communicates that you will be happy within this place, because it the happiest place in the world. That’s the outcome they are selling, happiness. Everything they do at their parks is designed around the customer/visitor being happy so they can create positive memories to share. Look at BMW’s slogan, ‘Designed for driving pleasure.’ Both of these statements promote an single emotion.

In the Experience Economy, value is created when it is customized and personalized for the customer. Each experience is unique to each person because it is internalized. This is the biggest shift from the previous economic stages. The idea of custom and personal is what makes an experience memorable.

So, my question to myself was ‘what is the most personal thing a customer can experience?’ The answer… Emotions.

Wheel of Emotions:

No, its not a game show or an app for your phone or even a new ride at your favorite theme park. The Wheel of Emotion was diagramed by Robert Plutchik in 1980 to illustrated the primary emotions of humans. The emotions that we all experience and different times.

No alt text provided for this image
Wheel of Emotion

Plutchik defined in his diagram, the eight core emotions and the associated emotions that radiated out as the intensity diminished. (To avoid any confusion made by me, I’ll let you explore his thinking and his philosophy.) It is this idea of charting emotions that struck me as a possible tool for experience design. Could you design an experience based on a single or set of emotions? Design the engagement of customers around any emotion or feeling?

The answers to this question is not that simple. Emotions are very complex and the triggers to those emotions can be endless. It would require extensive knowledge of psychology to be able to even begin map and design with any type of certainty. Something any regular business would not spend the time or financial resources to create. Maybe.

What if the design criteria was not so exact or not so extensive. What if it is not about the engagement or interaction of a given emotion, rather the possible direction of outcome for the customer? As I shared about the line in Shareef Mahdavi’s book about confidence, what if you could use the emotion diagram in a another way?

Buying Tires, A Tale of Emotion:

On a particular weekend I planned to get some new tires put onto my car. The front were a bit worn further than I was comfortable with and one of the rear tires had a very slow leak. So, I scheduled a Saturday morning visit to my favorite tire shop to replace all four.

While at the shop waiting, I spent passing the time reading a new business book. Four tires would take about an hour given the number of people waiting. While reading, a young woman interrupted me to ask me what I was reading as I seemed really into the book. I shared that the book was about creating experiences for patients and customers and adding value over the competition. (my canned response.)

As with most people I meet, she looked confused. She asked, “You mean better customer experience?”

I began explaining by example. I shared with her why I drove across the city to get my tires at this particular shop. It wasn’t because they were cheaper, they weren’t. It wasn’t because they were the fastest either. It was because I trusted them like no other tire shop. The atmosphere was always friendly, the staff communicated with the customers throughout the whole process and even made suggestions of additional work that may be needed even if they didn’t do that type of work. The key reason is they made me feel safe when driving.

In that brief moment I found the key I was looking for. The question that could to be asked when designing an experience. Define the outcomes emotion you understand your customers seek. If the tire shop really wanted to elevate its offering to become an experience, it would need to leverage that feeling of safety for the driver.

The Experience Design Question:

By reflecting on experiences I have had in the past and those I am familiar with, I identified the possible right question to ask when designing an experience. That question is…

What Emotion Are You Selling?

Disney sells ‘Happiness’, Starbucks sells delight and Harley Davidson sells freedom. But what are you selling? What emotion do you want your customers to remember after they exit your place of business? What emotion dictates your designs, brand and culture with that emotional target?

This basic question of what emotion you want to sell comes with a lot of design thinking behind it. Knowing the emotion you are targeting before, during and after the engagement sets up many other variables around the need of staging, the correct props to use and even the proper employee training that goes into the ability to engage with a customer in order to achieve the emotional goal of the experience. One question can define the experience if you let it.

If you’re familiar with or use Simon Sineck’s framework of ‘Start with Why’ that he shared during a TedTalk and in publication, then focusing on the emotion draws you closer to the ‘Why’ purpose statement. Once you know the ‘Why’ of your experience, you can then begin defining the ‘How’ of the actions needed to be achieved, and eventually define the ‘What’ of tools and props will be used during the interaction.

By asking ‘What emotion do you sell?’, you frame the entirety of the experience. In this manner, I am not seeking which emotion to frame the engagement of the customer, but what emotional outcome do I want them leaving with after the interaction. It will take using other emotions to achieve the eventual outcome.

By looking at your business as selling an emotion, the goods, services and knowledge you provide are all merely the tools to a reach that emotional state. I don’t buy tires from my favorite shop because of price or the time saved, I take my car there because they know how to make me feel safe. I trust them because of their engagement with me as more than just a customer. They honestly treat me as if they truly care about my safety on the road. Everything they do and share is all about one emotion.

So ask yourself this question…

What emotion do we sell?

Can you identify a single emotion that your business embraces? Do your marketing messages reflect this emotion and does your brand promise this emotion to the customer? My suggestion, pick one and embrace what it means and how to engage customers

In addition, once you identify that single emotion, then you will begin to understand all the negative triggers and obstacles to overcome with the customer to build a deeper relationship. You will identify the spaces that are needed and the roles you employees will perform to fill so the customer can achieve that single goal. Designing with an emotion as the outcome, will change your how and what your business is in the eyes of the customer. You can take your business from a Goods or Service level to that of an Experience and add value.

There is a lot more to this thinking of an emotion as a design tool for experiences. The frameworks of the Experience Economy, Design Thinking, Behavior Science and so many others all come into play.

Let’s chat more…

#ExperienceEconomy #Designthinking #Change #Emotion #Design